John Singleton Says Studios 'Ain't Letting Black People Tell Stories,' Unveils Tupac Biopic Plans (Video)
John Singleton criticized the major studios March 19 for refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films. "They ain't letting the black people tell the stories," the Oscar-nominated director-writer told students at Loyola Marymount University, expanding on a theme he addressed in a Dec. 18 Hollywood Reporter op-ed piece. "[Studio executives say] 'We're going to take your stories but, you know what? You're going to go starve over here and we're not going to let you get a job.' The so-called liberals that are in Hollywood now are not as good as their parents or ancestors. They feel that they're not racist. They grew up with hip-hop, so [they] can't be racist. ‘I like Jay Z, but that don't mean I got to give you a job.' "
He added: "They want black people [to be] what they want them to be. And nobody is man enough to go and say that. They want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are. The black films now — so-called black films now — they're great. They're great films. But they're just product. They're not moving the bar forward creatively. … When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don't have anything that's special."
Singleton addressed students at LMU School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, where he was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway as part of The Hollywood Masters interview series. Other interviewees have included Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Judd Apatow and Sherry Lansing.
"You've got a lot of black executives at the studio who are afraid to give their opinion about what black culture is," Singleton maintained. "There's a whole lot of black people who work in studios that don't need to be there, because they won't — if I give them the best thing possible, they're scared to give it to somebody [higher up], because they'd be like, ‘Woah!' "
"There's no Stephanie Allains," he said, referring to the producer and former Columbia exec who backed his debut. "Stephanie Allain kicked and screamed to get Boyz N the Hood made. Those people don't exist anymore, whether they're black, white or whatever."
Singleton, whose pictures include the landmark 1991 release Boyz N the Hood, 2001's Baby Boy and 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, said he was getting close to making his long-anticipated biography of musician Tupac Shakur, who starred in the filmmaker's 1993 drama Poetic Justice. Singleton is working on the screenplay, but said, "I have no idea" how to cast the part.
"I'm germinating over that time, and talking to old friends, and having these emotional moments," he said, recalling how he met the 20-year-old Shakur: "I met Tupac through Queen Latifah in New York at this party that we were at, at a place downtown called Big City Diner. We were just partying, having a good time, just casually. Then I saw him again at the Beverly Center — he was there in L.A. He was walking around, talking to girls at the mall. This was before [the 1992 crime drama] Juice came out. Then I saw him do his first interview on B.E.T. He declared war on black Hollywood — not Hollywood itself, but black Hollywood. He was like, ‘F— Spike Lee, f— Eddie Murphy, f— Quincy Jones, f— all these fake-ass people. They're going to see a new dude out here. I'm going to come hard.' And I was like, ‘I want to work with him!' "
Singleton, who said he had wanted Tupac to star in Baby Boy, was at home in 1996 when he heard Shakur had been killed at age 25. "I was in my home office," he said. "The lady I was dating at the time told me that he had passed — he had been shot days before, but he [had] just passed. It set my life on a whole other trajectory. I went and left the country for about a month. I just couldn't cope. … I felt, the danger ain't sexy anymore. I got to change it up, not necessarily just as a filmmaker, but just as a person, and kind of grow up."
He also recalled the late Paul Walker, whom he directed in 2 Fast 2 Furious. "He would go on these exotic trips to Tahiti and different places on a moment's whim, just to relax. He would hang out doing adventure trips, going to the Channel Islands. Somehow, people thought I started surfing after doing that movie [and that] I bought a $10,000 surfboard. I said, ‘No, I never bought a $10,000 surfboard!' He probably bought that. But I didn't."
Watch the video above. A full transcript follows on the next page (click here to read).